Sunday, December 1, 2013

What Is Freedom?

I’m not really sure what the word freedom means, but I know that it has something to do with Harley Davidsons and sanitary napkins. I know it’s something that we’re supposed to fight for and die for, so it must be important. I’ve also been told that freedom is a concept that never existed until the founding fathers of The United States of America decided it was of primary importance. I’ve often heard that freedom isn’t free, but that’s never helped me to understand it much. It seems that freedom always has corresponding responsibilities, which again undercuts the very notion of free. When you think about it, if freedom isn’t free, then what is?

It seems to me that every time someone tells you how important freedom is, that they are asking you for something. If patriotism is a scoundrel’s last refuge, then the concept of freedom is his first sales pitch. During the early days of the second Iraq War, we were encouraged to use the term “freedom fries” in place of French fries, in order to show our patriotism. Edward Bernays, marketing pioneer and nephew of Sigmund Freud, was given the task of increasing sales of cigarettes. His idea for doubling the amount of smokers was to market to women. Up until that time, there was a social taboo against women smoking. Cynical genius that he was, Bernays tied the idea of smoking to the growing women’s liberation movement. Using the term “freedom torches”, Bernays hired women to smoke cigarettes in public in order to link rebellion and freedom with cigarettes.

Now I’ve already admitted to not knowing what freedom is, but I know a thing or two about slavery, and addiction is just about the greatest form of slavery possible. That’s why pimps introduce drugs to their recruits, to get them used to not being in control of their lives. I was a smoker for many years, and I can tell you first-hand that the day I quit smoking was perhaps the most liberating day of my life. I still look back at the day I declared my freedom from nicotine, and that memory more than anything else gives me some appreciation of the word freedom. To think that some SOB would use the word freedom in an attempt to enslave half the world’s population is almost too horrible to imagine. And here again, I gain some appreciation of the concept of freedom. Because even the death that cigarettes deal to so many of those who become addicted to them is not as bad as the lack of control one experiences when one is a smoker. To know that someone or something has such control over some aspect of your life leads you to doubt your ability to control your life overall. In that sense, I can understand the sentiment of Patrick Henry when he said “Give me liberty, or give me death.”

Maybe freedom is just some adman’s pitch. Maybe freedom is a nebulous concept with no real meaning.

Then again, maybe freedom isn’t just a Madison Avenue invention. Perhaps it is such an important thing that those that wish to manipulate your emotions realize its strength and use it to control your behavior. Perhaps your freedom is the most important thing in the world. If that is true, then what exactly is freedom?

Hitler promised freedom from the communists and the Jewish conspiracy, and he delivered in a big way by killing every Jew and communist he could find. But freeing Germans from communism and an alleged international Jewish cabal did little to free them from Nazism. That’s the thing about freedom—you break free from one oppressor just to fall into the grip of another.

It can be an endless cycle, one in which we are all pawns moved across a board. Perhaps the most we can do to claim our own freedom is to be aware of the powers that push us back and forth. Take the time to get to know the world around you, get to know who is running the show, and who is trying to shape the way you think. And above all, be suspicious of those who tell you they are concerned about your freedom; it could very well that their only concern is their freedom to get rich at your expense. Freedom is in fact not free, the cost is constant vigilance, not so much of our borders but of our minds and those who would seek to shape them. There are people paid handsomely to get you to believe what you are supposed to believe, to make you see lies as truth, slavery as freedom. The key to freedom is knowledge, for the truth will set you free. One can be manipulated only as long as one is unaware. Once you know the truth, you will have not only the ability but also the desire to claim the freedom that was your intended birthright.

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